Overlooked van Riemsdyk gets chance to show his worth

With Dougie Hamilton injured, the Hurricanes are looking for their defensemen — including the 28-year-old pending free agent — to step up

The Hurricanes are relying on Trevor van Riemsdyk and the rest of the defense to elevate their play due to the long-term injury to Dougie Hamilton. (Karl B. DeBlaker / AP Photo)

RALEIGH — “Trevor’s obviously a pro.”

That seems like a throwaway comment, made Monday by coach Rod Brind’Amour about defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, but it’s much more than that.

In fact, it’s actually a compliment. It means the coach — known for his undisputed work ethic — sees a player who comes to the rink prepared, ready to work and with the right mindset and attitude to succeed.

While van Riemsdyk’s climb from undrafted college player out of the University of New Hampshire to NHL champion was meteoric — he signed with Chicago in March 2014 and lifted the Stanley Cup just 15 months later — that doesn’t mean it was easy.

He did, however, have one advantage many don’t. His older brother, James, was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft and had a half-decade of NHL experience under his belt when Trevor — the middle of three hockey-playing brothers from New Jersey who attended UNH — cracked the Blackhawks lineup.

“I’m definitely proud to have him as my brother, and he had a good few years in the league before I came out,” Trevor said of James. “I know I wouldn’t be where I am without him. Not just the name, It’s him showing me what it takes and showing me all those little things you can do to improve.”

Which brings us back to being a pro.

While expectations for James were sky-high as a top draft pick, the younger van Riemsdyk wasn’t handed the same opportunities. But he did have a good role model.

“It’s something I kind of watched my older brother do a bit,” the 28-year-old van Riemsdyk said of learning how to train and prepare. “It’s a whole other level of 24/7 taking care of yourself, doing all the little things to be ready every day, and I’ve been lucky enough to kind of pick his brain. … That (could) give you that one extra percent that might make a difference.”

Van Riemsdyk will need that edge, seeing that he’s the latest to try and fill the injured Dougie Hamilton’s spot on Carolina’s top pairing alongside Jaccob Slavin.

“It’s exciting to play a bit more in these situations,” said van Riemsdyk, who logged a season-high 21:44 — 3:18 more than in any other game this season — in Sunday’s 4-3 shootout win over Vancouver. “I know I can do it, so it’s something I’m excited to do and play well.”

Van Riemsdyk’s new defense partner doesn’t doubt he can do it either.

“Trevor, he’s easily able to fill that spot up there,” Slavin said following Monday’s practice at PNC Arena before the Hurricanes embarked on a four-game road trip. “He’s great defensively. … He’s got patience with the puck to make those little tight plays in the D zone or on the blue line. Just solid defensively and knows where to be on the ice.”

And while it’s van Riemsdyk’s turn to try and fill the big hole left by Hamilton, Brind’Amour doesn’t expect one of his frequent third-pairing defenseman — or anyone, for that matter — to solely replace those missing minutes or contributions.

“With Dougie out, it’s not one guy that’s going to replace him,” Brind’Amour said Monday. “We need to put different guys in certain roles that maybe they haven’t done, and minutes have to be shared.”

Luckily for Carolina, van Riemsdyk — who has three assists through 33 games this season — is back to full strength following offseason shoulder surgery required after he was hurt in the playoffs against Washington last spring.

“It’s definitely been a slow progression forward,” he said of his recovery. “It’s been a little more challenging than I thought, maybe, when I was first coming back. But I feel like it’s been getting better and better, and I kind of have been playing better and better. So, hopefully, just keep going in the right direction here and hopefully just lead to more team success.”

The chance to play more minutes and be with Slavin is also an opportunity for van Riemsdyk — a free agent after this season — to prove his worth to the Hurricanes.

“I’m just kind of focusing in on the games at hand right now and let that take care of itself whenever it may happen,” van Riemsdyk said of contract talks, which he said have not started between his representatives and Carolina. “It’s not really up to me. I love it here in Carolina, and I’m definitely going to enjoy this next little bit and we’ll see what happens after that.”

For now, he knows several teams — including James’ Philadelphia Flyers — stand in the way of the Hurricanes and their first goal of returning to the playoffs. And being a pro, more than anything, means playing for the crest on the front of the sweater and not the name on the back — even if family gets in the way.

“I’m sure my dad’s looking at that (the standings) and stressing about it,” he said. “We’re both obviously going to play our hardest, and hopefully we both find our way in.”